YouTube is a treasure trove of content. The only drawback with its default Android and iOS apps is that you can’t continue audio playback after you turn off your screen like you could with a music or podcast app. Thankfully, there are a few lesser-known ways to do this without rooting your device or spending a penny!
Even though we recently wrote about video sites that are better than YouTube, it’s no secret that when it comes to sheer volume of content, YouTube is the leader of internet videos. All other services pale in comparison.
Some of this content — e.g., songs, lectures, or even motivational TED Talks — is great to listen to offline. That’s because you don’t really miss much if you don’t watch the accompanying video. This is a fantastic way to keep yourself entertained when commuting or working out.
Thankfully, with these apps, you can keep listening even with your screen off.
Don’t want to spend a dime? Try out these free methods of playing YouTube with the screen off.
For Android: Firefox Browser
Though most Android users probably use Google Chrome, Firefox is a solid alternative if you want to play YouTube videos in the background. You could either switch over to Firefox entirely for web browsing or just use it as a dedicated YouTube browser.
Open the Firefox app and search for YouTube (or just go to youtube.com), then search for a video you want to listen to. When the video starts playing, simply turn off your screen to continue listening to it like a podcast or audiobook.
It’s easy to create Watch Later playlists within the default YouTube app, then go to Firefox and login to your YouTube account to play those videos in succession.
Download: Firefox for Android (Free)
For iPhone or iPad: Safari
Unfortunately, the Firefox app on iOS doesn’t replicate the same audio playback feature that its Android counterpart does. Thankfully, Apple’s built-in browser, Safari, does have this functionality. The method is slightly different than what you do in Firefox for Android.
Open Safari and go to the YouTube website. Ensure that Safari doesn’t direct you to the YouTube app, which it might. When you’re on YouTube website, search for and play the video you want to listen to with your screen off.
Now turn off your screen. Your video will stop playing, but don’t worry! Just press the Home button to display your Control Center, and you’ll see options to play the video and control its volume and playback. Press the Play button, the audio will continue playing, and you can now turn off your screen to continue listening to it.
The Paid Option
Willing to shell out a few bucks? This is the easiest and most reliable method.
If you live in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, or Mexico, then you can subscribe to YouTube’s YouTube Red service for $9.99 a month. Apart from an ad-free experience, this also gives you the option to listen to videos with your screen off and even download videos to watch later.
If you’ve subscribed to Google Play Music, then you get YouTube Red for free (and likewise, if you sign up for YouTube Red, you get a free Play Music subscription). If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, this might be your best option, since a Spotify subscription alone is $10/month as well, and that doesn’t include ad-free YouTube.
We’ve written about YouTube Red and what you should consider before deciding whether or not to sign up. Opinions are mixed on the service (some folks think it could be bad for the YouTube community), but it’s definitely a slick way of listening to YouTube videos in the background.
Sign up: YouTube Red ($10/month)
Download for Android: YouTube (Free)
Download for iPhone or iPad: YouTube (Free)
The other two methods are best done on your PC before transferring the file to your device. One method involves converting YouTube videos into an MP3 file for offline listening. You can also use one of the services mentioned here to download YouTube videos and enjoy them at your convenience.
Watch Out for Your Data
Regardless of which app you use, playing YouTube videos in the background will eat into your mobile data so – unless you have a generous data package – use this feature frugally or when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. A smart idea is to start playing the video on a Wi-Fi network, then wait for it to buffer for a few minutes before heading out. This can save you valuable data.
Which of These Works Best?
Google tends to crack down on third-party YouTube apps that enhance its functionality. For example, a brilliant app called FlyTube used to let you watch YouTube videos as a floating window while browsing other apps, but Google eventually took it down.
Similarly, an iOS app called Songstream let you listen to YouTube videos in the background, but that feature doesn’t work anymore. It might be reinstated with a future update, but don’t count on that happening.
At present, these are the only reliable ways of enjoying YouTube’s content in the background or with your screen off.
Do you know any other ways to replicate this feature? What YouTube content do you like to listen to offline? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally written by Erez Zukerman on January 2nd, 2014.